Thursday, November 4, 2010

1981...The Choice Is Yours

In 1963, Fleer issued its set using players signed to non-exclusive contracts, apparently unaware that Topps held exclusive contracts with some of the same players.

In an out of court settlement Topps prohibited Fleer from effectively producing any licensed player cards for the next 17 years.

In 1975, Fleer, led by Gilbert Barclay Mustin, the grandson of Frank Fleer, who founded Fleer in Philadelphia in the 1885, began a long antitrust case against Topps. The suit alleged that Topps and the MLBPA used exclusive five-year contracts for the cards to freeze out competition. Fleer won in Federal District Court in 1980 and began offering the player cards with its Dubble Bubble gum in 1981.

When Fleer won, Donruss took advantage of the relaxed regulations, and rushed into production their own set.

But Topps appealed successfully in August of 1981. The U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that there wasn’t an illegal restraint of trade solely because cards could be produced for minor league players.

In 1982, Fleer found a loophole in Topps’ contracts. Players were restricted from appearing on any other brand card packaged either alone or with candy. Fleer maintained the contract said nothing about cards packaged with something else. They then replaced the gum with MLB team stickers. More lawsuits ensued.

In 1983, Fleer and Topps settled out of court; Fleer could continue to sell cards, but not with gum.

Either way, hobbyists suddenly had three choices and Topps had a rival.

You would think that the inaugural set that you fought years to have the privilege to produce would be something stunning.

But instead Fleer was more interested in finding a way to sell more gum than making a great baseball card.

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